Long before photography became a career every millennial with an artistic streak wanted to pursue, Mwangi Kirubi, was clicking away. He takes us through his portfolio from taking pictures for Mavuno Church events, to getting a call from the highest office in the land to shoot portraits of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.
How did you get to take photos of the President and his deputy?
For the State House job, a friend who works there gave me a call one day and asked if I could drop what I was doing and head to State House to shoot portraits of the President because the person who had been booked was unavailable. I agreed to it and went there, but the President’s schedule changed and I was told to come back later in the week. After analysing the task ahead of me, I asked my friend Allan Gichigi to do the portraits with me because I knew the task ahead was beyond me and Allan is very talented.
People call State House. State House doesn’t call them. Lucky you...
Passion can take you before kings. I can only imagine the protocol it takes to get a meeting with the President – all the security and other procedures – and yet I got there just because of my talent. Your talent will open doors for you. It’s important to always go the extra mile without necessarily expecting anything in return.
Back when I was an events photographer, I attended an event at the Tribe Hotel and after the event, I came across a man proposing to his girlfriend. I decided to capture the moments and I later shared the photos on social media. The pictures were shared extensively and I got a call from the man who proposed, asking if I could forward the photos and I did so, without my watermark.
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Later, I got a call from the guy and I was hired for both his engagement and wedding photography. He then referred me to be the photographer for his company’s events and I did all their photography for three years.
How long have you done photography on a full-time basis?
Eleven years. Before that, I was a copyrighter. The salary was good – Sh100,000 in 2006 was good. I lived a comfortable life, could travel during the weekends and had all I needed. It is during the weekends that I would dedicate my time to photography. But it reached a point I felt there was no need to be empty during the week and then full on weekends. I am driven by passion.
Quitting my job in 2006 was the best decision I made.
Take us through your photography career journey...
I started out by taking photos for Mavuno Church’s events and moved on to wedding photography, which I did for a number of years until it no longer fulfilled me. I used to take any project that would pay, but it reached a point I asked myself whether the photos I was taking served a deeper purpose.
At first I thought I would take a short break and the drive would return, but it didn’t. And I cannot do anything I am not passionate about. Besides I didn’t like that I was missing out on spending time with my family during the weekends – which is when most weddings happen.
Pursuit of purpose? Is that what made you transition into documentary photography?
Yes. I wanted my photography to serve a deeper purpose. I now take photos that showcase Kenya’s beauty and that of other countries. I have also worked with NGOs and other development organisations whose work helps society.
Being a veteran photographer, I’m sure you charge a pretty penny. What are your rates?
An average of between Sh55,000 and Sh75,000 per day. Soon, I want to get to the point where I take just three or four projects a year that make enough money to sustain me, then I can spend the rest of the year travelling with my family.
What has gotten you to where you are now?
Passion and good relationships. Also, I am not selfish. I’m not afraid to share opportunities if I know someone who can do a better job or I’m tied up doing other work. Be a channel of blessings and you will be blessed.
What nuggets of advice do you have for budding photographers?
Go above the call of duty to help a client. If you are hired for a wedding and your contract expects you to be on site between 9am and 6pm, don’t pack your equipment and tell the groom to pay an extra Sh5,000 if they want you to stay beyond that time.
Are you going to leave the event before the wedding cake is cut just because it’s past your contract time? Do the job and let the groom know they don’t have to pay you and they could end up referring you for more gigs.
What do you tell that young photographer trying to hone their skills, but still looking for a few coins because we know some friends like freebies.
Friends can be the number one killer of businesses because some expect services for free but don’t cave in.
Has your journey been all roses and no thorns?
No. I have had to deal with a number of people stealing my work. Even big corporates. Those are not good moments.